After two preseason games at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle, WA, the LA Clippers returned home to Crypto.com Arena against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.
The Wolves came away with the win, 119-117, after the Clippers led for the majority of the game. But it wasn’t the final score that mattered, it was how the Clippers looked throughout the game.
John Wall is exactly what the Clippers have been missing, and not in the way you might think. For the past couple of seasons, people have been clamoring for the Clippers to add a “true” point guard but that’s never been a real necessity. Yes, Wall’s ability to function as a primary playmaker is beneficial, but it’s not the main aspect he brings to the team. It’s his ability to put pressure on the defense and get to the rim. He had an array of drives to the basket and got to the free-throw line nine times while scoring 20 points. When games tighten up and outside shooting goes cold, teams need someone who can consistently break down the defense and make plays. They have Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, but now they have someone else who can help take the pressure off those guys.
Speaking of Leonard, this preseason is his first live game reps since Game 4 of the 2021 Western Conference Semifinals against the Utah Jazz. He didn’t play in the second half but for the minutes he was out there in he first half, he moved well and showed some reminders of who he is. On one possession, he caught the ball near midcourt, immediately put the ball on the floor, split the defense and threw down an effortless one-handed dunk as he glided threw the air.
Small ball also seems to be the No. 1 option when Ivica Zubac goes to the bench. Last season, the Clippers had Isaiah Hartenstein to anchor the frontline when Zubac needed a breather. They don’t have that luxury anymore and when Zubac came out in the first quarter, Tyronn Lue went with Nicolas Batum as the small-ball center. The Clippers have the personnel to play this style against most teams and not have to worry about not having a true backup center.
The Clippers defense is going to be a force. They’ve been one of the top defensive teams in the NBA the past couple of seasons but even so, this team can be flat-out suffocating on that end. In the first half, they had a few possessions where their length and quickness bothered Minnesota and they were able to force several turnovers leading to transition opportunities. Playing with more pace was something the Clippers didn’t do so well last season and to be able to use their defense to generating easy scoring opportunities is a big step up from that.
The Clippers have one final preseason game at home on Wednesday against the Denver Nuggets at 7:30 PM PST to serve as the final tuneup before the regular season officially begins.